So management consulting…
I got hooked on the idea that you can take large, amorphous problems and break them down into pieces that you can than solve and put back together again, because that’s exactly what you do as a physicist. Why is a bird flying? It’s not concrete, so you break it down—what forces are working on the bird—and then you build a model from that and you can start making predictions and see if they come true. And that’s what management consultants do.
And from there to quantitative trading…
I was working on the Singapore Stock Exchange, and I was doing a lot of capital markets analysis, doing a lot of research into understanding that whole universe. I remember, I was walking down the street in Singapore, and I said, wouldn’t it be fun to write a computer program to trade the stock market? I said, ‘That’s way too much fun, it can’t be possible. Stop dreaming Peter.’ Two years later I’m sitting in Harvard Business School, and we go around and introduce ourselves. So I tell my story, and the next person over introduced himself and said, for the last six months I’ve been writing a program to trade the markets.
Needless to say, we started talking, and four months later we started a company to do exactly that.
What’s different about Space now?
You feel it stronger in the Valley than here, but there is a huge push to the private sector. Money starts to be available. If you were to ask NASA today, ‘How long will it take to put a man on the moon?’ They’d tell you, ‘Give us 25 years and half-trillion dollars.’ And in the ’60s, when they had nothing, it took them eight or nine years to do the same thing. They could not do today what Elon Musk just did. It’s like the Bannister mile has been broken. No one thought you could break a 4-minute mile, and then Bannister did it and within six months, six other people did it.
OK, so we can rent some space on your nanosatellite. What then?
You can do really cool things with earth observation with nanosatellites, such as mapping the ocean temperature, mapping rainforests, atmospheric density, space weather. One of the experiments that I would want to run is measure the magnetosphere, which shields us from solar radiation, to get a sense of the shape of the earth’s magnetic field. I think people will want to take pictures of planet—hobby astronomy is a $100 million business every year.
But I purposefully don’t try to think about it. If I had asked you in 2008, how many applications will be on the App Store, what are people going to do with it, I doubt we would have come up with even a fraction of the 600,000 applications that people invented. Maybe Brad Pitt wants to buy Angelina Jolie her own personal satellite. He buys her all sorts of other crazy things.